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NEWS

Aug. 21, 2006

RSU Innovation Center Signs Incubator Client

A business and technology incubator at Rogers State University has signed its first client, a start-up company that will test and analyze samples for the emerging biodiesel industry.

JM Biolabs, LLC operated by Dr. John Sawyer, has become the first client at RSU's Innovation Center. "The center provides start-up companies with assistance and resources to help smooth the path from business concept to profitability," said Dr. Ray Brown, RSU vice president for economic and community development.

"For the Innovation Center's incubator, we are targeting technology-based start-up companies that would be a good fit with the University's academic strengths, and that also have a strong opportunity for growth. JM Biolabs LLC is an excellent fit within that profile, and we're glad to welcome Dr. Sawyer and JM Biolabs LLC as the first client in the Innovation Center."

JM Biolabs LLC tests samples of biodiesel, an alternative to traditional petroleum-based diesel, to ensure that the samples meet federal requirements. The company has licensed a 350-square-foot space at the Innovation Center for its operations.

"Biodiesel is a growing industry because of the demand for finding alternative fuels due to rising gas prices. This emerging market presented us with a prime opportunity to fulfill a critical need," Dr. Sawyer said.

Biodiesel is a clean-burning fuel produced from domestic, renewable resources such as plant oils (soybeans, rapeseed, palm oil, peanuts, etc.) or animal fat. Biodiesel is more environmentally friendly than petroleum diesel, because it is made from renewable resources and has lower emissions when burned in an engine. By using readily available domestic materials, this reduces dependence on foreign oil and provides an economic boost through local production. 

JM Biolabs LLC will target its services to biodiesel manufacturers in a surrounding five-state area, which includes 16 production plants currently operating and another six planned to open within the next year. The closest biodiesel manufacturer and Dr. Sawyer's primary customer is Green County Biodiesel of Chelsea.

Currently, the nearest biodiesel testing lab is in Kansas City and this scarcity of testing services provides a prime opportunity for JM Biolabs LLC to capture an underserved regional market, Dr. Sawyer said. JM Biolab's equipment also could be used to extend its environmental analysis and testing operations into other fields in future years.

Dr. Sawyer also serves as an assistant professor in the RSU Department of Mathematics and Sciences and will maintain a full teaching schedule while growing his business. He anticipates hiring two or three RSU students as interns to assist in the lab and gain valuable, "real world" laboratory experience. In addition, Dr. Sawyer said he will work on developing ways to integrate the practical applications from his business into the environmental chemistry curriculum at RSU.

Dr. Sawyer received a small business loan from Larry Green at Grand Bank in Claremore. The loan was made available to purchase the necessary equipment, including a gas chromatograph that detects chemical levels within a tested sample.

The impetus for developing the company was driven almost entirely by happenstance, Dr. Sawyer said. RSU's Innovation Center had been contacted by Green County Biodiesel about the possibility of developing a local testing facility. The Innovation Center staff then put the company in contact with Dr. Sawyer, who has nearly 30 years experience in operating chemical plants, start-up pilot facilities and related operations. From there, Dr. Sawyer recognized the opportunity available for such a testing facility and began working with the Innovation Center staff to develop a business plan.

Dr. Sawyer praised the Innovation Center staff as invaluable to his start-up process by helping him develop a comprehensive business plan and building his contacts in business and government sectors. In addition, the center leased the incubator space for growing his testing operation and provided business advice on subject matters ranging from financing, insurance, marketing and more.

Benefits of the incubator program include reduced overhead through a graduated rent schedule, substantial state income tax breaks, close links to the University's academic resources and professional, on-site business assistance. Studies have shown that companies developed through incubator programs have a much higher success rate than other enterprises, Dr. Brown said.

Dr. Brown also noted that business incubator programs, such as the one at the Innovation Center, are beneficial to the community by expanding the local economic base through business growth in new, emerging industries such as information technology, biosciences and environmental conservation.

For more information, contact the Innovation Center by visiting the RSU home page at www.rsu.edu and clicking on the link for the Innovation Center, or by email at innovation@rsu.edu or call (918) 343-7533.